> > > 8-month mission on "Mars": October 2014

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Burning the candle

Throughout my life, I’ve often heard the saying “Don’t burn the candle at both ends."  It's useful to have reminders to make tough choices about how to spend your limited time and energy.

Even though joining this mission did feel rushed and similar to the "burning both ends" phenomena, I don’t think this transition deserves the negative connotation of that saying.  I am now much closer to the goal of living simply and passionately.  Instead of worrying about burning the candle at both ends, I’ll make "burning the candle in the right places” my mantra.  I've made it to the right place and feel so thankful for this opportunity.

On a lighter note ;) here at the dome, we are burning tons of calories by committing ourselves to a daily fitness program!  This is our first week of the workout regimen.  My Jawbone UP data shows evidence of how sore my muscles are feeling, since outside of workouts, I've had about 60% less activity today.. I walked around much less because my hip flexors are killing me!  
But no pain, no gain!  Tomorrow is yoga, definitely looking forward to a good stretch!  Here’s some photos of fitness-related engineering from the past week:

Zak duct-taping some steps and a bucket together for our tabata workout, okay, so this is not exactly engineering..

But Martha and Sophie repairing our treadmill motor definitely is!

Our kitchen-made incense holder is important too, keeps the dome from smelling like a gym!  There's a glimpse of our Martian kitchen in the background.

Next post, I'll give you a tour of the place.  We are slowly getting organized.  It takes time just like moving into a new house on Earth!  My sister and brother-in-law can testify as they are moving into their new home this week, congrats Kayla and Lee, can't wait to see your new place too, xoxo!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Training Wheels

This past week has been a series of crash-courses in power systems, geology, EVAs, inventory, and IT networks.  Our dome habitat is powered by photovoltaics (10kW solar array) with hydrogen fuel reactors as a secondary energy source.  We are surrounded by basaltic lava and living in isolation on the slopes of Mauna Loa where there is little evidence of plant or animal life.  

Today was our first full day of the mission.  We have been diagnosing network problems and doing inventory on our shelf-stable food supplies.  The majority of our food is freeze-dried, including fruits, vegetables, eggs, and meats.  We also have a large supply of cereals, rice, flour, spices, pasta, and snacks.  From the start, a thorough inventory is critical, since we must divide our massive food supply into rations for the long-duration mission.

One of the goals for HI-SEAS is exploring how to effectively promote crew autonomy.  With a mission to Mars, the wide distance makes communication difficult.  Depending on the current positions of Mars and Earth in their orbits, information packets from Earth take between 10-25 minutes to reach Mars.  Therefore, a crew on Mars should be able to operate autonomously, rather than waiting for orders from mission control. During the HI-SEAS mission, instead of "Mission Control," we have a "Mission Support" team.

(Illustration by NASA)

The only communication we can have with the outside world, including mission support, is through email on a NASA network that is delayed 20 minutes to simulate the distance from Earth.  Our cell phone services have been turned off and our internet access is limited to static web pages.  There will be no chatting or webcam conversations.  I am still able to post to social media through my delayed email, but I cannot participate fully, since newsfeeds are dynamic and infeasible over the wide distance to Mars.

Of course, this is a simulation, so if emergencies arise, then we do have an emergency phone to call for help.  In fact, we are monitoring a potential emergency situation as Tropical Storm Ana is making her way to the Hawaiian islands.  During training, we practiced evacuations and learned about the weather conditions that our vinyl dome is able to withstand.  If the winds get too strong, then we will hunker down in the supply container until the storm passes.  The training wheels are coming off as our new reality is setting in!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Mahalo for the gadgets!

The crew has made it to Hawaii along with NASA researchers and mission support.  Traveling to Hawaii was especially exciting for me because it was my first time leaving North America.  I caught some great views of LA as we started flying over the Pacific.  

During this week of training, we are staying at a beautiful ranch on the Big Island.  As glamorous as it may sound, in reality, our days in training have been filled with powerpoint presentations and questionnaires.. but this has been augmented by the fun of training with high-tech gadgets!

During this 8-month Mars analog mission, we will facilitate research studies of biological samples, social interactions, as well as psychological and cognitive testing with the goal of learning how health and performance change throughout our time in this isolated, confined, extreme environment.

It’s sometimes difficult to be unbiased when answering survey questions about how you are feeling and performin
g.  So, we are working to develop methods that can automatically infer our mental and physical states in an objective, quantitative manner.

My favorite device in the toy chest is Hexoskin biometrics, which are physiological sensors and data processors built into athletic shirts.  Data collected include respiratory and cardiac activity along with movement and sleep monitoring. The Hexoskin application for mobile devices has really amazed the crew with it's beauty and responsiveness.

In the Hexoskin app, the lungs on the screen inflate to match every breath you are taking, and a real-time electrocardiogram scrolls across the screen to show how your heart is beating.  We will be wearing these devices during exercise inside the dome and when we go outside the dome in our spacesuits to explore the slopes of Mauna Loa volcano.

One of the main tasks of our mission will be exploring and surveying the geology of Mauna Loa, which is the largest active volcano on Earth. The crew will be evaluated based on our performance during these assigned extra-vehicular activities (EVAs).  So, up next, we will be traveling to Hawai’i Volcano National Park. There, we will learn techniques for geological surveying that we will need for completing our EVAs throughout the 8-month mission.  

Can’t wait to see the glow of lava!!